In-person events and conferences have long been a significant part of corporate budgets. In fact, the global events industry was worth around $890 billion in 2020 and is expected to reach $2 trillion by 2028, according to Statista.
The size of the market and the complexity of planning and executing such events has made the industry ripe for digital disruption like what happened to the travel booking and movie and sports ticketing industries. Yet no all-in-one tool existed before Planned.
Launched in 2018 by two Montreal entrepreneurs, Marc-Antoine Bonin and Emeric Noël, Planned provides a single platform that allows in-person event planners to book everything they need for their events while providing visibility and control to managers. Users can browse and book from a curated portfolio of thousands of sites and providers across North America. The platform makes it easy for businesses to find, compare and book vendors such as event spaces, caterers and equipment.
“We wanted to start a business together and we were looking for ideas that would best match our skills and meet a market need. We saw this company in Asia doing an “Airbnb for open spaces”. It’s a cool idea and we haven’t seen anything like it in North America. So we decided to take this route and create a market,” explains Noël.
The couple launched the business, started running ads and recruited Montreal sites to the platform. They were getting decent traction for the business and raised angel investments. But in their drive to grow, they spent time talking with their customers about what they needed to do to improve service.
“We had a lot of planners who came from large Fortune 500 companies. They told us about the challenges of the job, the inefficiencies in the planning process, especially the need to find new vendors and onboard them, working on their procurement procedures. And there was no platform back then that helped them streamline that process. That’s when we had the idea to turn to building this platform that would really take the whole journey of planning an event from A to Z, from finding venues to everything from event management to booking and invoicing,” says Bonin.
In 2019, the company found its true market fit and began to seriously expand the business, bringing in a product team, while expanding the business to 47 employees at the time. They raised their seed tower and thought they were off to the races. Then Covid-19 hit and the pandemic-led business shutdown brought in-person events to a virtual halt, bringing their business to a virtual standstill.
It was an existential moment for the company. Should they turn to virtual events? Or stick to their vision of an in-person event planning platform? The couple decided to stick with the original plan, scale back the business, reduce staff from 47 to 12 and wait for the inevitable return of the in-person events market and got to work to continue to improve their platform. “It was kind of a nerve-wracking moment, because we just raised a round, and we had to repay $3 million and downsize. So we had $2 million left in the bank account with a $550,000 burnout rate on payroll,” says Bonin.
Eighteen months later, in-person event activity is well and truly back. Sales on the platform grew 400% from Q4 2021 to Q1 2022 and today over 25,000 vendors and suppliers have Planned profiles to attract businesses from Planned users. And while the event planning platform is at the heart of the business, many clients use Planned to help with creative event development. “For 82% of our clients, their biggest problem is ideation. How do you create something cool? With our event data, we know what works and can offer suggestions,” says Noël.
The momentum has seen Planned attract venture capital funds to the tune of its $18 million Series A funding round in June 2022 led by Drive Capital with participation from Outsiders Fund, THCAP and N49.
Both Bonin and Noël grew up in Quebec and both had their own entrepreneurial ventures while in college before meeting through LinkedIn. Noël founded the software development agency Affilio in 2012 before graduating from the University of Quebec in Outaouais in 2014. “I founded my first startup at that time. We raised some money via Kickstarter. I was 20 years old. Running a business with employees and going to school was an interesting challenge. I learned a lot from this experience. But we didn’t have a clear fit with the product market, and we scoured the funds. So I decided to pay the money back and just took it as a learning experience knowing that I would have another chance in the future,” explains Noël. After that experience, he briefly served as a business intelligence manager at Robotshop for a year before partnering with Bonin in 2017 to launch Planned.
Between high school and college, Bonin co-founded On the Lookout, a Montreal company that specialized in commercial representation in 2014 before obtaining a degree in finance from McGill University in 2018. convinced to sell the company so I could reinvest it all in another project which was called Uvolt which was a solar powered watch charging phone. Honestly, that was a bad idea. But we got some traction and media coverage and raised money for it on Kickstarter. That’s why I contacted Emmerich via LinkedIn, because of his similar experience on Kickstarter,” says Bonin, who later left Uvolt to found Planned with Christmas.
As for the future? “It’s exciting. It’s a huge market and no one has more than 1% market share. And we see the opportunity to provide the all-in-one platform to gain market share and really take control. We strongly believe that’s going to happen, so that’s what we’re aiming for,” concludes Bonin.